Wednesday, 6 November 2013


11th Sept 2013

Chollima Steelworks
Up in time for a hot bath in a 'spa jacuzzi' in my bathroom which was, by some miracle, working. The egrets had all disappeared back to where egrets go in the daytime and the route back to the main hotel building was accomplished without the navigational difficulties of last night. This was to be our last full day in DPRK.

First port of call today was the West Sea Barrage ( left ). This consists of a remarkable 8km dam/causeway across the bay to the west of Nampo leading to a series of locks and a large control tower. The purpose of this is to regulate the fresh water river flow ( from Pyongyang, into the West ( Yellow ) Sea, and vice versa. It prevents flooding or low water levels upstream and allows shipping in and out through the locks.
This was constructed, largely by hand, by a workforce of 30,000 soldiers between 1981-86, and not without a few casualties. There are some alarming stories of divers getting into trouble when examining the construction.

The journey there was enlivened by a race with the bus full of Belgians ( the loud ones with their Fuhrer from last night ) who were determined to get there first to attend the 'presentation' on arrival.  They had set off in front, but somehow we won. I think our splendid driver managed to jump them at a road junction. 
The talk we were given explained how the system operated but was cut short due to the video machine being inop. The diagram ( right ) shows the causeway from the left to Pea Island and the locks. Nampo, being a main seaport, supposedly receives a lot of cargo ships and they queue up to go through the locks. There wasn't much of a queue while we were there. I suspect trade has been somewhat curtailed in recent days due to various trade embargoes.

On through Nampo city where the docks housed a few ships but there didn't appear to be the slightest sign of activity. All the cranes were standing idle and noone appeared to be working on the wharves. Maybe it was NAAFI break. Song Sim told us an amusing story concerning a visit by a US President ( Reagan or Bush Snr? ) who was accompanied by Kim Il Sung on a boat ride from here up to Pyongyang. I have forgotten the story and denouement to this tale; suffice to say it made Reagan, or whichever Prez, look rather stupid.

Next visit, the Chollima Steelworks to the west of Nampo, named after the fabled horse ( statue in Pyongyang ). A vast complex, but obviously very eco-friendly and 'green' because there was hardly any smoke emanating from it. We were kitted out with safety helmets and then led, inevitably, into the steelworks museum. Much memorabilia which featured, as we had come to expect, photos and items concerned with visits by Kim Il Sung (47 visits), his wife (14 visits), and Kim Jong Il (22 visits). Outside was this ( left ) treasured rock on which Kim Il Sung sat while addressing and inspiring the workers on one of these visits. He had shunned the use of a chair because all the workers were sitting on the ground.

We were then escorted to one of the sheds housing several smelting crucibles. One was in operation. I am not familiar with the technicalities of steel production, but from what I saw it involved tipping some scrap metal into this 'crucible', chucking in some lime and firing it up. Lots of orange smoke and sparks was the result.

We were told that this steelworks produces 510,000 tonnes of steel per annum, or up to 500 tonnes per day. It employs 17,000 workers. I think I counted 6 in this particular shed. Indeed there were more people cutting the grass outside. I really don't know what to make of it. We asked where was the steel which is produced and were told that they wouldn't be producing steel until later in the day. As with the potato processing plant where we didn't see any potatoes and the fertiliser factory where we didn't see any fertiliser, we never actually saw any steel.

On back to Pyongyang and the Yanggakdo Hotel ( I gather rather rudely nicknamed 'The Alcatraz of Fun' because of it's location on the island in the river ) for lunch. After a previous failed attempt this was to be in the revolving restaurant on the 47th floor. Another delightful meal and a good rotating view over the city, or at least it would have been if it hadn't been foggy and you can't blame the Imperialist US Aggressors for that. Yes, the restaurant actually revolved, although it stopped pronto as soon as we left the table.

Next on the agenda was the new 'Folk Museum Theme Park'. This is a large recently constructed site featuring a scaled down mini-Pyongyang, some ancient replica weapons, a reconstruction of a famous imperial warship which had beaten the Japs in a sea battle in the 15th century ( powered by ranks of oarsmen ) a model traditional village and a large reconstructed pagoda ( right ). It has been designed to provide a 'history' of the country, with a decidedly DPRK flourish.

Left: Inside the warship. The original, according to our guide, is in Paris. Our French professor had no inkling of this.

Right: A bird's eye view, from the top of the pagoda, of the 'mini-Pyongyang'. All the famous buildings feature in small scale. Kim Il Sung Square, with a model parade going through, is the size of a couple of tennis courts and a 30ft high Juche Tower.

Left: A mini-Ryugyong Hotel ( the unfinished 105 storey pyramid ) and the May Day Stadium to the right.

Right: A replica typical Korean village.

After this a visit to the Paradise Store to stock up on victuals for the forthcoming train journey tomorrow. This is indeed quite a large well stocked three floor supermarket which I am sure is off-limits to the 'normal' people. It must be, because all the prices were in dollars or euros. Not many customers as expected, but quite a choice of drink, foodstuffs, clothes and general goods. I managed to stock up on various snacks, and a couple of bottles of wine.

This evening was our Farewell Dinner for Song Sim, Mr Lee and our gallant bus driver at the Paradise Restaurant downtown. They deserved a good send off and a couple of amusing little speeches were made to thank them. Another fine nosh and plenty of that rice liquor which, I have learnt, is called Soju ( maybe ). Not sure if it is on sale at Waitrose yet.

Back to the Yanggakdo for a late night playing pool, ten pin bowling and making sure we kept the bar open for as long as possible. Some of us depart by train tomorrow morning for the 24 hour journey back to Beijing. 
At this point it might be useful to show you a map indicating where we went in North Korea. Not great clarity, but if you 'click on' it might enlarge and be legible. The yellow circles indicate the major visit points.

I will continue this travelogue with an account of  the journey to Beijing and finally bore my small readership with a summary of my experiences in, and opinions of, the  DPRK.

Chap sidaa cheem-deh balli balli!

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